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Marines pitcher Mike Bolsinger gets NPB career off to roaring start

by Jason Coskrey

Early on during Mike Bolsinger’s latest start for the Chiba Lotte Marines, catcher Tatsuhiro Tamura noticed his pitcher shaking his head a little every now and then and didn’t quite know what to make of it.

“I thought it was kind of weird,” Tamura joked after the game.

Upon hearing that, Bolsinger just laughed.

“I don’t know, sometimes I just get out of it and look off into space basically, not even concentrating,” Bolsinger said. “It’s really weird what I do sometimes on the mound. I just like to embrace what’s going on around me sometimes.”

With the way he’s been pitching, who could blame him?

Bolsinger has won his last seven starts for the Marines, the longest streak by a foreign pitcher in club history according to Nikkan Sports. The latest in that run was a gem on Saturday against the Yomiuri Giants that saw the 30-year-old protect a 1-0 lead (attained in the first inning) by striking out seven and allowing just four hits, while walking two, in his first NPB shutout.

It’s a stretch as good as any Bolsinger has had in his career, which includes stints with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers and Toronto Blue Jays.

“The only run I remember previous to this was when I came up in 2015 with the Dodgers,” Bolsinger said. “My first 10 starts were really good, I had a really good run there.

“It’s just the placement of pitches,” he continued. “It’s a little different out here, but my catcher has been a really big reason why I’ve been doing so well. He’s studied so many of these hitters and he really knows how to pitch them. That’s really been part of my success. But it’s also kind of been just going out there and feeling good. I’ve just been kind of in the zone. In baseball, you’ve gotta keep that going until something happens, because baseball is not always a nice sport to you.”

Bolsinger has been among the best in NPB so far and doesn’t hesitate to credit his partnership with Tamura as a big reason why.

“This is one of the best catchers I’ve ever pitched to,” Bolsinger said Saturday. “He makes it fun to play baseball.”

Tamura is a former All-Star with a penchant for helping his pitchers out by picking off runners on the bases. He also calls a good game and the sixth-year veteran’s guidance has been paying off for Bolsinger, who is in his first year in Japan.

The two have quickly formed a dynamic duo of sorts for Lotte, with a bond that snapped right into place during spring training.

“He caught a lot of my bullpens,” Bolsinger said. “I think they made it a point for him to catch a lot of my bullpens and a lot of the preseason games. As soon as we had live BP (batting practice) with our own team, he really found out how I wanted to pitch and from them on, we were just in sync with each other. It’s really fun. He really knows what he’s doing out there.”

Bolsinger is 8-1 overall and tied with the Orix Buffaloes’ Andrew Albers and Hanshin Tigers ace Randy Messenger for the second-most wins in NPB, behind only the Hiroshima Carp’s Daichi Osera (9-3). His 2.06 ERA is second to only the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles’ Takayuki Kishi (1.91) in the Pacific League.

It’s a start he didn’t imagine getting off to in Japan.

“The only thing I wanted to concentrate on (before the season) was going out there and throwing as many quality starts as I could for my team and put them in a good position to win,” he said. “To me, the quality start stat is a lot more important, because having a quality start means you kept your team in the ballgame and gave them a chance to win.”

He’s done that and then some, weird head-shaking quirks and all, so far this season.